Temporomandibular Dysfunction, or TMD, includes a broad range of disorders that often overlap. These involve muscle problems that affect jaw movement, pain in the face around the jaw joint and problems within the joint itself.

This variety makes diagnosis and treatment difficult. An accurate diagnosis is necessary for successful treatment. For example patients with a muscle problem that is giving them pain will most likely not benefit from surgery on the temporomandibular joint.

Many problems, whether muscular or within the joint, improve over time. For this reason, the majority of experts agree that it’s best to use cautious treatment at first. But in some cases, surgery or other procedures, like injections, may be suggested as a first treatment.

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Most people with TMD have short-term symptoms that are not grave and do not worsen. They typically can get better with simple household treatments. Sometimes symptoms dissipate without any treatment at all. They also return with no warning.

If you have TMD, your dentist may suggest the treatments below. Most dentists agree that these treatments work best when used together – you may not find reprieve using only one.

Soft Foods: If you eat food that doesn’t require a lot of chewing, your jaw gets a chance to rest and heal. This means you shouldn’t eat food that is:

  • Thick or large, requiring you to open your mouth wide.
  • Chewy, like a caramel apple.
  • Hard or crunchy, like a hard roll, pretzel or raw carrot.

Ice packs, Exercise and Moist Heat: Some people find that a routine of moist heat, exercise and ice helps TMD symptoms. Start by applying moist heat to the side of your face and temple. This relaxes tight muscles that may be causing spasms. Try to do this for about 10 minutes. Then do a few simple stretching exercises, like this one:

  • Put your left thumb under your upper front teeth.
  • Put your right index and middle fingers on top of your lower front teeth.
  • Gently pull the jaw apart using your hands, not your jaw muscles.

Splints: Splints are designed to fit over the teeth. They prevent the upper and lower teeth from coming together. This makes it difficult for you to grind or clench your teeth. These devices take pressure off the jaw joints and muscles so they can relax and heal.

Other Treatment Choices: There are many different types of treatments for TMD. If your TMD is not better after trying the basic treatments listed above, your dentist may suggest one or more of the following:

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This therapy uses low-level electrical currents to relax the jaw joint and facial muscles.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound treatment is deep heat that is usually applied to the joint if it’s sore or doesn’t move. It is often used along with physical therapy.
  • Trigger-point injections: For this therapy, a dentist injects pain medicine or an anesthetic into tender facial muscles to relieve pain. While the pain medicine is working, you should stretch your jaw muscles with simple exercises.
  • Acupuncture: For some people with TMD, acupuncture can be helpful.

Surgery: Surgery is usually considered only if you have tried all other treatment options and still have persistent pain and functional problems such as limited opening of the jaw. Before having any surgery, be sure to get a second opinion from another surgeon.

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